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Hairy, scary, frozen Ice Age wolf head found perfectly preserved in the Siberian permafrost

Phoebe Loomes, June 13, 2019 7:00PM news.com.au

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Modern wolves, such as these two in Canada, are much smaller and less scary looking than the Ice Age wolf found frozen in Siberia. Picture: iStock media_cameraModern wolves, such as these two in Canada, are much smaller and less scary looking than the Ice Age wolf found frozen in Siberia. Picture: iStock

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Scientists have revealed the discovery of a giant, perfectly preserved Ice Age wolf’s head.

It is believed to have been frozen in the Siberian permafrost* for 40,000 years.

Its hair, teeth, ears and even its brain are completely intact.

The fierce beast would have roamed the land alongside woolly mammoths and woolly rhinoceros.

media_cameraThe massive wolf head discovered in Siberia is perfectly preserved, complete with hair, teeth and even its brain. Picture: Albert Protopopov/Siberian Times

Local man Pavel Efimov made his incredible find near the remote Tirekhtyakh River in Siberia, Russia, while hunting for mammoth tusks last northern-hemisphere summer. Scientists have been studying the Ice Age mammal since then.

The head is massive — almost 40cm long — compared to the 25cm-long head of an average Siberian Gray Wolf. It would have been so big it could have hunted massive animals, including bison.

The wolf would have been fully grown when it died and between two and four years old.

Scientists don’t yet know how the wolf died, but it wasn’t killed by human hunters, who didn’t live in the area until about 32,500 years ago. They believe it could have been originally frozen in one piece but shifting ice later broke the head from the body.

The ice of Lake Baikal media_cameraSiberia, Russia, is extremely cold. Much of Siberia is permanently frozen, which means the remains of long-extinct animals stay frozen and do not decay. Picture: iStock

“This is a unique discovery of the first-ever remains of a fully grown Pleistocene* wolf with its tissue* preserved,” Russian scientist Dr Albert Protopopov told The Siberian Times newspaper.

“We will be comparing it to modern-day wolves to understand how the species has evolved and to reconstruct its appearance.”

Grey Wolf media_cameraScientists will compare the Ice Age wolf with modern wolves, such as this grey wolf in Jasper National Park, Canada. The head of a modern wolf is around 25cm long, compared to the 40cm head of the Ice Age wolf. Picture: iStock

The wolf’s head and its DNA* will now be studied by scientists at the Swedish Museum of Natural History.

The discovery was announced in Tokyo, Japan, at an exhibition of frozen ancient animals.

The wolf’s head was found about the same time as a well preserved cave lion cub estimated to be between 20,000-50,000 years old.

The two incredible discoveries are displayed together at the Tokyo exhibition.

“Their muscles, organs and brains are in good condition,” Naoki Suzuki, a professor of palaeontology* and medicine with the Jikei University School of Medicine in Tokyo said.

“We want to assess their physical capabilities* and ecology* by comparing them with the lions and wolves of today.”

media_cameraLarge mammals, such as woolly mammoths and bison, lived during the Pleistocene. This is an artist’s impression of the long-extinct mammoths. Picture: supplied

THE PLEISTOCENE
The giant wolf lived during the Pleistocene, which means the time in prehistory from about 2.6 million years ago until about 11,700 years ago.

The end of the Pleistocene was the end of the last glacial period on Earth.

The terms Ice Age and Pleistocene are often used to mean the same time in history.

Homo sapiens* evolved during the Pleistocene. By the end of the Pleistocene, humans lived in most parts of the world, including Australia.

Pleistocene animals and plants included modern species, but there were more big land mammals — called megafauna — that are now extinct, such as woolly mammoths and woolly rhinoceros.

media_cameraA visitor to the Australian Museum comes face to face with a model of a diprotodon, a type of giant wombat. Picture: Australian Museum

The first humans are thought to have reached the Australian mainland possibly earlier than 65,000 years ago and Tasmania perhaps 40,000 years ago.

When the giant wolf roamed Siberia, Australia was populated with megafauna such as giant wombats, echidnas, kangaroos, koalas, penguins and marsupial lions.

One of the most terrifying Australian megafauna species would have been Megalania prisca, a giant goanna about 6m long.

GLOSSARY

  • permafrost: permanently frozen
  • Pleistocene: period in history also called the Ice Age
  • tissue: general name of materials that plants and animals are made from, as in bone tissue, skin tissue
  • DNA: carries genetic information in the cells of living things
  • palaeontology: study of prehistoric life and fossils
  • capabilities: things someone is able to do
  • ecology: how living things relate to one another and live in the same environment
  • Homo sapiens: species name of humans

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. Why is the wolf’s head in such perfect condition?
  2. What other species would the wolf have lived alongside?
  3. How do the scientists think the wolf’s head may have come off its body?
  4. When did humans first live in the area the wolf was found?
  5. What was Megalania prisca?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Artist’s Impression
Only the head of this wolf has been found so far. Look at the picture of the wolf’s head. Use your imagination to draw a picture of the wolf’s head to scale and create an artist’s impression of what the rest of the animal may have looked like.

In the background draw what you imagine the environment may have looked like when this wolf lived.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, The Arts — Visual Arts

2. Extension
Scientists still have lots of questions about this wolf and will continue to study the head to find out more.

What would you like to know about this animal?

Write a list of at least five questions that you have about this species. Under each one write a prediction of what you think the answer might be.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science

VCOP ACTIVITY
The Ice Wolf
Write a narrative about the ice wolf living and hunting in Siberia. Try and include some facts from the article to make it more realistic. Think about what their surroundings might have looked like, their habitat, their food sources, how they hunted, their pack/family etc. 

You may like to write from the eyes of the wolf or from an observer’s perspective.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Which megafauna species would you least like to bump into? Which would you have as a pet if you could tame one?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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